Teaching a Blind Person HTML?

I’m after some ideas on something here. Tomorrow I will be sitting down with a lad who’s here on work experience who is completely blind. He’s been doing some assessment of various web sites over the last couple of days but tomorrow I have got to try to teach him a bit about building web pages.

I aim to do this very simply but in all honestly, despite having written a book for the absolute beginner on this very topic, I’ve never thought about how I explain such concepts to a blind user. Sure, I understand the issue for blind people consuming this information, but not creating it.

Do I just use Notepad?

Is DreamWeaver a good idea?

Really, this is an open question (admittedly with little time for replies!) but I would appreciate any thoughts people have.


Filed under: Accessibility
Posted by Ian on Tuesday, April 28, 2009


  1. So says Matt Obee

    I found the best approach to be to start from the semantic angle, beginning with some raw text and then explaining how we put tags at the start and end of something to describe what it is. If he knows any braille you could use that as an example. Braille includes something similar to HTML tags to indicate things like capitalisation, the start of a number, email/web addresses etc. I’d definitely get him going in notepad rather than confuse him with an interface if possible. If he’s using a screen reader, maybe tweak verbosity so that it announces everything.

    Added April 28, 2009 at 5:16 pm

  2. So says Thom

    I completely second Matt’s comment about Braille and the need to start from semantic markup (rather than the seemingly standard practice of designers/developers/coders REDUCING their code to semantics). Only additional suggestion I’d have is to use Notepad ++ rather than a plain text editor, if only for the time-saving macro sequences that can be saved and deployed by keystroke (you’d not believe how many tags I’ve not had to type, working for an organization which overwhelmingly uses an acronym for its name).

    Added April 28, 2009 at 5:46 pm

  3. Why not create a simple page with header, navigation, content, footer, etc. and print it out in braille or have a refreshable braille reader with you so the person can see how a normal web page is laid out using web standards. Or you could place the on the page as content, that way you could use a screen reader to show him the code.

    If that is understandable to the guy with simple text and headers (H1, H2,etc.) why not show him how to make FORMs and other more complex things, like UL.

    Added April 28, 2009 at 8:47 pm

  4. Notepad is probably the best to get started with. Advise him to turn his punctuation settings to “All”, so that all the etc. characters are read out. He may also find it easier to slow down the rate of speech a little until he gets used to listening to all the HTML tags.

    Code indentation will probably be a bit eratic. It’s a visual concept and it’s something I always forget about unless I know I’ll be sharing my code with someone sighted later on.

    Don’t assume this chap will know Braille. If he lost his sight as a child and/or was born without sight, there’s a good chance he’ll be a Braillist. If not, there’s a good chance he won’t use it at all. Surprisingly few people actually use Braille these days it seems.

    Comments from others about starting with the semantics make perfect sense. Also creating a tangible example page is a good idea, as John suggests. The really tricky bit will come with the CSS though, particularly layouts. It’s very difficult to get your head around the concept of visual layout versus source order, but I’m guessing it’ll be a while before you get that far.

    Added April 29, 2009 at 8:44 am

  5. So says Ian

    Thanks for your comments all. From his helpers, I understand that he’s created a web page before but this was the old PowerPoint ‘Save As Web Page routine’. I think my approach will be to let him show me how he does it first and assess how it sounds/reads. Then we’ll try the notepad simple page approach. Great suggestion abut the vberbosity level - I’ll switch that over before we start. I only have about 5 hours to go through this, so I’ll definitely keep things simple - get some headings in there, some paragraphs, some list items … and I will completely skip CSS. After all, what would be the purpose for him?

    Added April 29, 2009 at 8:55 am

  6. So says kelvinj

    You could try contacting Richard Heyes at http://www.phpguru.org.

    He’s an active member of the PHP community who had a stroke a few years back causing him to lose his sight. Maybe he would be willing to give to a tip or two.

    Good luck, and please do let us know how it’s going.

    Added April 29, 2009 at 10:13 am

  7. [...] suggested in the comments on my previous post, avoiding any kind of IDE and sticking with Notepad seemed to be the order of the day. However, [...]

    Added April 29, 2009 at 3:06 pm

  8. So says BIll

    CSS is actually very important for him. It allows the removal of the visual affect of the code from the structure.

    Added May 4, 2009 at 11:30 pm

  9. Ian, start with Css, this will be the easiest.
    Greetings from Germanany

    Added August 5, 2009 at 8:52 am

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